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Out of mind

A Cambodian woman is paralysed just like her husband, but she has not had a stroke. She is in a grey region of "conversion disorders"

Kim Sieng sits in the consulting room with her right arm cradled in her left hand and her body tilted to one side, as if she were holding herself in a permanent state of falling. She is small and frail, and the young psychiatrist feels an odd impulse to reach out and catch her. Instead, since the translator is late, he tries some pidgin Chinese. “Ni hao,” he says. “Ni hao,” replies the elderly lady.

He gestures towards her weak arm, and she allows him to flex the joints. The arm is completely limp. Something is amiss—if she were suffering…

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